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Tucson community remembers Bill Walton

The NBA legend and sportscaster had Wildcats fans talking alongside him during 'Conference of Champions' broadcasts
Posted: 8:52 PM, May 27, 2024
Updated: 2024-05-28 17:53:46-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — If you've watched an Arizona Basketball broadcast in the last 12 years, you know Bill Walton: The sing-speak timbre of his booming voice extolling the 'Conference of Champions' has been part of the Wilcats' courtside soundtrack on the now-sunsetting Pac-12 Network since its launch in 2012.

Some Arizona fans loved his untameable style, while others often would take to social media during a game to air grievances about his unrelated-to-basketball colorful commentary. But whether you turned the sound up or down during a Walton sportscast, it's probably fair to say he got you talking.

Monday, fans around the world learned of his passing at age 71, his microphone now forever off the air.

While younger Arizona fans might have been first introduced to Walton as a color commentator, or as the father of former Wildcat and NBA coach Luke Walton, Bill Walton had a storied basketball career prior to his days as a sportscaster. From his time as a UCLA Bruin under John Wooden to his championship-winning NBA career as a Portland Trail Blazer and Boston Celtic, Walton was honored with numerous MVP awards. He was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

WEST KANSAS ARIZONA
Former NBA great Bill Walton cheers on Arizona during the second half of their NCAA West Regional final game against Kansas Saturday, March 29, 2003, in Anaheim, Calif. Walton's son is Arizona forward Luke Walton. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

Walton began work as a sportscaster doing color commentary on CBS basketball broadcasts, according to his NBA profile. He'd already been broadcasting nationally before his time calling Pac-12 games: Early success behind a mic earned him a Sports Emmy, and in 2009 he was named to a list of top-50 sports broadcasters by the American Sportscaster Association.

Walton's love of the Pac-12 (the Pac-10, when he was playing at UCLA) was reflected in the way he stood behind his Conference of Champions. By coincidence, his passing comes at a time when summer sports are wrapping up, putting the final chapter in the books for the Pac-12.

But his time as a broadcaster for Arizona games will leave a lasting impact, far beyond the reach of just sports. A cyclist, lover of music and the outdoors, Walton's presence here during his stint calling Pac-12 games got him out in the Tucson Community. He toured the Sweetwater Wetlands and talked with UA water researchers about conservation and the environment. An UA graduate student in the School of Art gifted Walton his own specially-painted chair for his McKale broadcasts.

And perhaps most famously, muralist Ignacio Garcia painted this larger-than-life Bill Walton mural in the heart of downtown:

walton_mural.png

It's since been painted over, but lives on in digital and print memory as testament to Walton's connection to the people of Tucson.

Director of Athletic Bands at the UA Chad Shoopman, who Walton often referenced by familair first name during broadcasts, remembered Walton for his support of Pride of Arizona.

Even former UA Basketball head coach Sean Miller shared pictures and memories, writing, "In the 12 years I was at Arizona, I had the great fortune to be around Bill and interact with him as a colleague, mentor and friend. He introduced himself to me at every gameday shoot around the same way, 'Coach, Hi I’m Bill'."

El Tour de Tucson, in which Walton previously rode, thanked him for his advocacy as well.

And while Walton certainly had his fans among the Wildcat faithful, he had his naysayers too—something he addressed through is own social media posts:

In a statement issued late Monday, Arizona Basketball wrote:

"Bill Walton was a friend to all of us, and you really didn't have a choice in the matter. He was generous, authentic and a curious learner of life who genuinely cared about others and their own life journeys. He was enthusiastic about everything, and the more you got to know Bill, the more you learned where that enthusiasm originated.

He genuinely cared about every player, coach and staff member, even texting with staff members this past week about TJ McConnell's energy in the NBA Playoffs.

Always the avid learner, Bill loved to hear someone's story and how it brought them to the University of Arizona. We will always remember him from the bright side of the road!"

And though Bill Walton was a UCLA Bruin at his core, I think it's fair to say—from one Wildcat fan to another—Bear Down, Bill.

——
Anne Simmons is the digital executive producer for KGUN 9. Anne got her start in television while still a student at the University of Arizona. Before joining KGUN, she managed multiple public access television stations in the Bay Area and has worked as a video producer in the non-profit sector. Share your story ideas and important issues with Anne by emailing anne.simmons@kgun9.com or by connecting on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.